At the beginning of the year, I published five test and measurement predictions for 2017. Of course, it’s easy to predict things; getting the prediction right is the hard part. Now that the year is nearly over, let’s take a look at how I did.

My five predictions were:

  • Industry succumbs to MADness
  • 5G ramps up
  • Disaggregation of instruments
  • Security testing gets serious
  • Power management to the people

Industry succumbs to MADness

I stated, “No, I’m not talking crazy.  MAD as in mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures.  I expect some significant ones this year.  Why? Just look at financials of many of the players.  Slow growth but quite profitable. So, if you can’t move market share by pouring R&D on the problem, maybe it’s time to look at buying someone to get you there.” 

I predicted significant merger activity for 2017, and indeed there was. The largest was Keysight’s blockbuster acquisition of Ixia for $1.6B. This follows Keysight’s $606M acquisition of Anite earlier. Both expanded Keysight’s footprint from chiefly physical layer testing to software and network performance. Keysight divested as well. Their Geneva operation was spun off to become the second reincarnation of Acqiris.

Figure 1 Keysight’s acquisition of Ixia enabled the creation of the Keysight T5510S Cellular + WiFi emulation system. This allows the testing of converged devices under a wide range of traffic conditions. Source: Keysight Technologies

Keysight wasn’t the only one in the acquisition business. Tektronix’s parent company, Fortive, acquired Landauer, a supplier of dosimeters and radiation measurement solutions for $770M. Rohde & Schwarz acquired DenyAll, a French web application security vendor. Ametek, Astronics, and EXFO all made acquisitions as well.

5G ramps up

You can’t open the pages here at EDN without seeing a new 5G development. Speaking of predictions, in mid-2016 I had made a specific prediction on what the first 5G deployments would be:

“New services. New revenue. Easier to design and achieve. If I had to place my bet on the first 5G mmWave killer app, I don’t think it will be mobile at all. I’d bet fixed internet access.”

Last month we learned that this is precisely Verizon’s plan, as they announced they would be deploying residential broadband services in Sacramento, CA and an additional two to four markets in 2018. Verizon stated, “As a first application of fifth-generation - or 5G - wireless, these services will use radio signals, rather than copper or fiber cables, to provide customers with unprecedented wireless speeds for Internet access.” Indeed, mmWave was featured prominently in 2017. At NI Week in May AT&T showed its 5G channel sounder for mmWave frequencies. Figure 2 shows the receiver, knicknamed "Porcupine."

The test equipment vendors have been racing to market with 5G products. Some, like signal analyzers and signal generators from the likes of Anritsu and Rohde & Schwarz, are bench products with enhanced specifications to handle 5G’s bandwidth and waveforms. Channel sounders are offered by Keysight, National Instruments, and Rohde & Schwarz, while a channel emulator is offered by Spirent.

Figure 2
The AT&T channel sounder demonstrated at NIWeek 2017. The system is based on National Instruments PXI modules and LabView. Source: Larry Desjardin

The multi-channel nature of 5G, however, presents challenges to traditional instruments. Keysight and NI have introduced a number of modular products to address the multi-channel nature of 5G, including high-speed digitizers, arbitrary waveform generators, up and down converters, and processors. This brings us to the next prediction…

Disaggregation of instruments

I predicted, “For various technical reasons, I expect to see 5G test solutions assembled from modular parts- front ends, data converters, and processors. Plus, a lot of software. The obvious method will be to use industry standards such as PXI or AXIe to deliver these solutions.” 

This clearly is the strategy of National Instruments, which I reported on from NIWeek earlier in the year. The MTS-28, indicating a 28 GHz mmWave transceiver system, is built from PXIe data converters, processors, and frequency converters. From these pieces a prototyping system or a test system may be constructed.

Keysight also uses modular architectures, typically a mixture of PXI and AXIe. The modular products are often combined with bench products to create a reference solution. These include channel sounding, 5G waveform generation and analysis, and satellite signal monitoring (Figure 3).

Figure 3
A 28 GHz 5G band phased-array system at the University of California San Diego being driven and analyzed by Keysight PXI instrumentation. The system demonstrated the beamforming capabilities of the phased-array system, delivering 12 Gbps at 0 degrees, and more than 8 Gbps in a wide span of scan angles from 300 m. Source: Keysight Technologies

Modular solutions don’t need to be open; they can be based on a company’s proprietary architecture. Such is the case with Spirent’s Vertex channel emulator. Here, RF modules are placed into Vertex chassis, reflecting the number of separate RF signals to be emulated, up to 32. The system can them be used for a number of applications including MIMO testing, carrier aggregation, and over-the-air testing in an anechoic chamber.

[Continue reading on EDN US: Security testing gets serious]

Larry Desjardin served in several R&D and executive management positions with Hewlett-Packard and Agilent Technologies, and current manages a consulting company, Modular Methods.

Related articles: